Book Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This is the second book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia that I’ve read (the first was Mexican Gothic) and so I feel comfortable saying that she has a knack for taking a familiar style of tale and adding her own flavour to it. In particular, a knack for telling a story from a Mexican perspective as both novels were set in Mexico and use its lush and colourful setting to full effect.

In full disclosure, I haven’t read the original tale of Dr. Moreau so I can’t compare this to that. Here we have Dr. Moreau, living in a remote region of the Yucatan Peninsula. The background to this 19th century setting is the growing unrest amongst the Indigenous labourers, who have begun to rebel against their Spanish colonizers. Carlota Moreau has lived her whole life in this isolation. She loves her home and adores her father. Mongtomery Laughton arrives when she is in her late teens as a new mayordomo. He is an alcoholic Englishman running from his own past who is happy to turn a blind eye to the strangeness of Moreau’s scientific explorations.

Moreau is a French doctor who, hidden in the jungle, is creating hybrid creatures never before imagined. His work is funded by Lizalde, a wealthy man eager for a new workforce he can control. But when Lizalde’s son, Eduardo, shows up unexpectedly, the tensions that are brewing come bubbling to the surface. Carlota has never questioned her father before but she is about to learn a lot more than she ever could have imagined.

Moreno-Garcia does setting so well. The house, the gardens, the jungle, the heat – I could picture them all. That said, the hybrid themselves felt a little lacking. I had trouble envisioning them in my head. There are supposed to be many different kinds with differing abilities but I struggled to really comprehend how they might all look and act differently.

The other major drawback I found was a similar one to when I read Mexican Gothic. Which was that the major “twist” of the novel was something I saw coming pages and pages before. And I don’t generally consider myself to be the type of reader who spots these things. Maybe Moreno-Garcia doesn’t really intend for these to be surprises to her readers but the characters themselves sure seemed shocked by something I thought was pretty obvious.

It might sound like I didn’t enjoy the book but I really did. I thought the setting and particularly the political and cultural background provided by the Yucatan at the time really added a lot to a story that will probably be familiar to many readers. Carlota is naive but overall a likeable character and Moreno-Garcia gives both her and Laughton plausible characteristics and backgrounds to explain the choices they make.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia”

  1. Interesting! The hybrids in the original still live in my nightmares so they must have been pretty well depicted! I’m tempted to give this a try. I usually avoid follow-on novels, but it sounds as if this has moved far enough away from the original to count as new story…

    1. The hybrids here aren’t scary at all. I think this really is quite a different story, just with the jumping off point of that connection. I should read the original…it would be interesting to compare them.

  2. This sounds interesting! I’ve never read the original but I have read a couple of books that reference it pretty clearly, so I still have an idea of what the hybrids were like. The setting and detail might be enough to convince me to try this, though it does irritate me when I can see a plot twist coming a mile away.

    1. It’s one of those stories that’s familiar enough to reference, even if you haven’t read it, which helps a lot here. I did find it kind of annoying that the characters were so shocked about this revelation that seemed really obvious to me but there was enough to enjoy that it didn’t ruin the book for me.

  3. I’ve been really curious about this book, and glad you enjoyed it. So far I’ve only read Mexican Gothic (and really liked it) but I have no doubt I’d like her other stuff too – she’s a great storyteller, you are so right about that.

  4. I read Mexican Gothic and felt like it was two books. The first part was pretty ho-hum, but then once we got to the twist, it was downright claustrophobic to me! I will say, though I’ve only read one Moreno Garcia book, I applaud her ability to write in whatever genre! Ever notice that? She never picks the same genre, though they all feel a bit YA in age range to me, even if they are not described as YA or have a teen character.

    1. Someone pointed that out about her work (maybe you?) and I definitely see it. She’s very genre-fluid which is unusual and pretty cool. I could see how her writing has a YA flavour. The characters are pretty straightforwardly good or bad. There’s not a lot of ambiguity in either her plots or characterization.

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